Spring Flowers, The Writing Life, Lost Pines

Spring equals flowers…sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy days…and blessedly comfortable temperatures.

Greg and I have been doing some socializing. We had Varian Johnson and his wife over to dinner late last month. Greg prepared hearts-of-palm, red onion, and tomato salads, chilled asparagus soup, beef filets with salmon sashimi, mushroom ragu, and a chocolate cheesecake with mixed berries.

That same week, I also had lunch with Don Tate at Maudie’s Too on South Lamar and enjoyed one of my old favorites, the chicken fajita salad with queso sauce.

The following weekend, we had dinner with Shana Burg and her husband at their home. They prepared a fresh greens and vegetable salad with asparagus and chicken marinara over (I think) fettuccine. We had chocolate mousse with wee mint candies for dessert.

What else? Easter came early! That morning, Greg and I took a long walk through Zilker Botanical Garden.

Later that day, he made dinner–chicken and lobster in a pot with a salad and berries. Anne Bustard was our guest.

It’s been an incredibly productive period for my writing. So far this year, I’ve finished the final revision of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)(just signed off on the flap copy!) and written/revised three short stories–one for Geektastic: Geeky Stories, edited by Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black (Little Brown); one for Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Deborah Wayshak (Candlewick); and one for an as-yet unnamed vampire anthology (BenBella, 2008). At the moment, I’m working on the graphic-novel adaptation of Tantalize. More on all of that as details arise.

On a related note, I often say that I believe in celebrating every bit of good news in the writing life. I can’t tell you yet what’s pending, but this week, Greg and I had a particularly outstanding celebratory dinner at Cibo, which is at 819 Congress, not far south of the Capitol Building. It’s the row restaurant where I first enjoyed a lunch with Ruth Pennebaker, whose husband is the subject of a glowing front-page feature in today’s Statesman. For dinner, I had the fried fresh calamari with frisee, radicchio, grapefruit, olive oil, and red wine vinaigrette, followed by risotto with porcini and hedgehog mushrooms (for two; we split it), followed by the grilled “polletto alla diavola” with olive-oil whipped potatoes, green beans, and micro kohlrabi. The real news was the risotto. Absolutely heaven, and you could make a meal out of just that (we had big to-go boxes).

This afternoon, we’re just back from a long writing weekend at the Hyatt Lost Pines, a new full-service resort about 20 minutes outside Austin (near Bastrop). Note the “dueling laptops.” A dear friend had given us a gift certificate to Stories Fine Dining Establishment for Christmas, and as long as we were going, it only made sense to stay a couple of days.

I worked on the Tantalize graphic-novel adaptation (12 new manuscript pages!), and Greg worked on his novel in progress, which I haven’t yet seen.

For our “fancy” dinner on Friday night, I had tuna tartare with yuzu, avocado mayonnaise, candied ginger and black pepper potato chips, followed by roasted Maine lobster with corn fondue, grilled house smoked bacon, avocado and cornbread soufflé. Afterward, we had a drink at Scribes’ Club.

I especially appreciated how, throughout the hotel, Texas authors were featured alongside musicians and other local artists, though I’d like to see more attention paid to youth literature. I may send a letter to the manager about that.

We also enjoyed breakfasts and lunches at the Fireside Café and Shellers Bar and Grill.

At Fireside, I recommend: the Cedar Creek Wrap (pecan-smoked turkey, jalapeño bacon, jack cheese and herb spread). Note: They hard-sell the breakfast buffet, but order off the menu. Just the basic scrambled eggs with a side of ham was divine.

At Shellers, I recommend: the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail with Bloody Mary horseradish sauce (excellent sauce!) and pickled vegetables; the “Traditional” Cheese Pie (it’s a pizza) with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and sausage; and the Grilled Chicken Pecan Wrap (chicken salad with toasted pecans, grapes, apples and honey-mustard in a whole-wheat wrap served with vegetable chips).

I also enjoyed my hour-long Django massage at Django Spa. The Four Seasons spa still has it beat, but overall, the new Hyatt resort is serious competition, especially for those wanting to get away from it all. The service at both are outstanding.

This is peak season for travelers to Texas, so prices were a bit, well, pricey, but it was a special treat to see the wildflowers. I’m wondering if some of my local writer pals might be interested in retreating to the Lost Pines during the off-season. If it’s too hot, we’ll just get more work done. (See also Greg’s report).